8 Ways to Make Family Catfishing Trips Unforgettable for Kids
Story and photos by Keith “Catfish” Sutton
Fishing excursions with children should be about more than just catching fish.
It’s funny the things we remember.
When I was 10 years old, my grandmother took me, my younger sister and two young cousins on a fishing trip that remains vivid in my mind even after 50 years.
It was just a day trip, but my grandmother spoke of visiting Uncle Pat’s catfish pond several days prior to the actual event. Our anticipation built each time she mentioned it.
“All of you are sure to catch your biggest fish ever,” she said. “Of course, you have to land them first, and that won’t be easy. Some of them are huge!”
When it was time to go, each of us was given two fully rigged cane poles of our very own. We stuck them out the windows of my grandmother’s Ford Falcon and off we went to the kids-only fishing pond Uncle Pat had stocked with hundreds of catfish up to 25 pounds.
My grandmother and Uncle Pat helped us bait our hooks with worms and chicken liver and showed us how to flip our fishing rigs to the best spots. Then the action began.
As soon as our bobbers hit the water, they shot out of sight. All four of us kids hooked fish almost instantly, and no doubt our squeals of delight could be heard back in town. We walked backward up the bank to drag each whiskered fish out of the water. Then the adults would help us unhook our catch, rebait our hook and watch, smiling, as we went at it again.
None of the catfish we landed were true monsters, but several of the biggest we hooked broke the flimsy cane poles we were fishing with. When we finally left the pond that afternoon, each of us had caught dozens weighing 2 to 10 pounds, all of which were cleaned, cooked and served at a home fish fry that weekend.
I did not realize it then, but my grandmother and Uncle Pat planned that fishing trip for one reason. It wasn’t about catching fish to eat or seeing who could catch the biggest or most. It was about making memories. They simply wanted to enjoy a day with us we would never forget.
They achieved that goal. I’m 61 years old now, and I remember that trip like it was yesterday.
I have six sons, all grown now. As they grew from toddlers to young men, I tried to follow my grandmother’s example. Sometimes we’d spend a few hours fishing on local farm ponds or lakes. Other times we’d plan week-long camping adventures or out-of-state journeys to fun fishing destinations. Always, though, I planned these trips with the same goal my grandmother and Uncle Pat had when they took us to that pond: spending quality time together none of us would forget. What I learned while doing this can help you, too, plan some unforgettable family catfishing trips.
Just for Kids
I was in my early twenties when my first son, Josh, was born. When I started taking him fishing with me at age six, we both would fish, and I would get frustrated that I always had to stop fishing myself to bait hooks, untangle lines and remove fish. Unfortunately for young Josh, I hadn’t yet learned that a catfishing trip with kids should be just for kids. Adults shouldn’t fish. They should devote their time helping the youngsters be successful. My grandmother and Uncle Pat knew this. Now I do, too.
When children are young, it’s best to fish close to home if possible. Visit a local lake, stream or pond so driving time doesn’t exceed fishing time. After all, it’s fishing, not riding, from which memories are made.
Keep It Short
It’s also best not to fish more than an hour or two the first few times you take your kids. A youngster’s attention span is short. Fishing is fun for a while, but don’t test your children’s patience, and yours, by spending long hours on the water. Keep it short. Make it fun.
When your day for fishing arrives, be sure you pack plenty of snacks, sandwiches and cold drinks for your youngsters. Eating outdoors can be a fun part of the fishing experience. For a real treat, take along a camp stove or campfire grill, a skillet, some cooking oil, some cornmeal and some salt and pepper and cook a shore lunch of fresh fish right by the water.
Tackle of Their Own
If it’s not beyond your means, give each of your children a fishing outfit of their own. Rod and reel combos made especially for youths usually are inexpensive, but even a cane pole will be cherished. It also costs very little to prepare a small tackle box with their own hooks, bobbers, sinkers and other tackle.
Catch Your Own Bait
You can buy fish bait, but letting kids catch their own is much more fun. In fact, bait catching can be as memorable as fishing! Dig worms. Catch grasshoppers. Seine some minnows. Grab some crawdads. All are common, easily caught, easily kept and irresistible to catfish and other sportfish.
When catfish are the quarry, your kids can make bait at home. Have them cut some hot dogs in pieces about a half inch thick. Put them in a zip-seal plastic bag, add a tablespoon of minced garlic and a packet of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid. Then cover with water, shake to mix and refrigerate until you go fishing. Cats love these dogs!
Pack a life jacket for everyone, including grownups. Start early teaching your kids the importance of wearing a personal flotation device each and every time they’re on the water. And be sure to wear yours, too. Parents should set the example.
Swimming, Frogs and Skipping Stones
One important lesson I had to learn when fishing with my sons was that a fishing trip shouldn’t be just about fishing. When you put children in an outdoor environment, they quickly become distracted by other fun things to do. Don’t discourage their explorations. Make them part of the overall experience. Go swimming. Skip stones. Take a hike. Look for shells. Catch some frogs, crawdads or other critters. Plan plenty of time for activities besides fishing, and your trip will be more memorable.
As I write this, my sons are home visiting for the holidays. Jared asked to see photos from a fishing trip where a friend helped him catch some big cats. His brothers joined us to look at them, and soon we were pulling up photos from other fishing adventures. Seeing pictures taken years ago while we enjoyed those unforgettable days on the water brought back good memories.
On each trip, be sure to shoot lots of photos or video. Worry not that the pictures aren’t perfect or the video is unsteady. Keep your camera running anyway. Someday, when they’re as old as you, your children will sit down and look at them, and as memories of the good times come back, they’ll smile. That’s as much as any of us can hope for.